This article is a response to an event that happened to my 9 year old niece, who is attending a school in Athens Greece. Unfortunately, schools in Greece are not secular, and neither is the state secular. We still have a Ministry of Education and Religion, the constitution says that this is a christian country and part of our taxes go for the salaries of the greek orthodox priests! To explain a bit, even in state schools we have a class called «Religion», which actually is a propaganda for the Greek Orthodox religion.
When she chose the school that my niece is attending, nobody told her that it was a religious/faith school; it was understood that it was just a good school where religion was taught as part of the curriculum, just like in every other school. Nor was it in any way written anywhere that there would be any kind of religious problems or anything else religious except for the usual religious crap that all schools have to abide by.
My sister has explained to my niece that most of the things she is being told in the «Religion» class are myths and legends, and that they are not true; that there is no evidence for mystical resurrected zombies or parthenogenesis in humans…
Anyway, to continue with the story, my niece wanted to dress up for the annual school carnival party as a little devil girl, nothing frightening for other children. The owners of the school, though, forbade her the costume on religious grounds! They said that it is blasphemy to dress as such! Blasphemy again, the «protector» of religion from any kind of criticism, from logic, from critical thinking, from being human even, as it seems, from having fun! I wrote my ideas about blasphemy in a previous article in this blog, when I criticized the new blasphemy law of Ireland.
This is a clear fundamentalist attitude and as such my sister has complained but to no avail. Those people are set in their illogical, superstitious, irrational, dogmatic mind set, they have been lobotomized by religion and cannot think outside the box.
Of course, my sister’s family will not be attending the school party; entrance per person was priced at 28 euros, and since my sister has 3 kids, you can understand how much these cost for a total of 5 persons.
One of the worst things is that they run a school which is supposed to give an education to children. But the worst of it all is the way they made a 9 year old child feel. My niece at this moment has been hurt, is feeling humiliated. All I can do, as her aunt, is to try and explain some things, but she does not understand why she cannot dress as a little devil in the school party; she does not yet understand religion and its implications.And right now she is wondering why she was forbidden to dress as a little devil, and she is angry at the school’s owner.
Of course, the school will lose not just one student but three, as my sister has 3 children in all and none will be attending that particular school.
Children need to be free from such attitudes, they need to be free to think and express themselves; parents and the surrounding environment, have the responsibility to guide them and help them think logically, think critically, to use their empathy for other people, to be human.
How are children going to develop logic and critical thinking skills, when religion is superstitious and dogmatic? How are they going to be free and to express themselves, when religion limits that freedom? How are they going to learn to be responsible for their actions when religion teaches people to put responsibility to mythological beings (god and satan)? How are they going to learn to be human, to have empathy and to care for others when religion teaches them that they are sinners, and thus bad, and ugly? How are they going to be responsible citizens and be sensitive to major current events, when religion teaches «Have faith in God»? How are they going to consider themselves as an equal member of society, when religion teaches misogyny and racism?
This article was originally posted on the Snippets and other stories from the Net blog in English and you can direct your comments there.
As I read the recent publications and follow conversations in blogs and fora concerning the decision of the European Court for Human Rights to abolish crucifixes from the school rooms of Italy, I reflect on the difficulty of seeing the obvious: that the presence of religious symbols reflects partiality in favor of a particular religion, and what is more, it is a declaration of power, an indirect imposition, and therefore it limits the citizens’ freedom, regarding both the choice and the expression of their religious beliefs.
All of us know of people who have sworn in court with their hand placed on the bible, simply in order not to risk displeasing a possibly religious judge. How free can we feel to declare that we are not christian, in a country were christian symbols reign?
How can a child choose whether to join a religion or not, and if yes, which religion that would be, while the crucifix is still hanging over the blackboard? How easy do you think it is to take a posture against the prevalent belief of society? How can nobody realize that the symbols and rituals of a religion (crucifix, icons, prayers, etc), when displayed in places where all citizens must go in order to fulfill their obligations or claim their rights (schools, courts of justice, police, army, public services), represent an imposition of that religion?
Oh but of course, it is not forbidden to belong to another religion or to have no religion. Let someone please go tell this to my daughter, who makes the sign of the cross during the morning prayer in the school yard, because all children do so, in spite of the fact that we are not christians and she has not been taught christian customs and traditions. Apparently nobody has ever taught her to, neither has anybody imposed this on her. She could of course go to the empty classroom on her own and wait for the others to finish, or stand apart, alone, next to the others, without crossing herself. I ask you to imagine a six year old, on first grade, in a new place, among new people, with new responsibilities, trying to adapt to a new situation, and on top of that having to make a statement about her religious beliefs – let’s face it, failure to participate in a christian ritual such as the prayer is an ideological statement. How can we possibly demand of young children to take such a grave ideological decision and assume its weight, either crossing themselves or not?
I would like to tell those christians who feel that their faith is being threatened, that they ought to be glad at the prospect of symbol removal from schools. Will the display of religious symbols make good christians out of the children? Probably the opposite is true: it will teach them to pretend, like my daughter does now, in order to be integrated. The essence of faith can not be taught by pure formalism of ritual. Those who truly care for christian faith will want the abolition not only of symbols and prayer from the schools, but also of the christian catechism euphemistically called “religion class”.
And all us fools, citizens of this country, divide into “christians” and “others” and fight over the display or removal of “their” symbol, instead of realizing that this symbol is a Damocles’ sword hanging over the heads of us ALL.
Let us all together turn our home into a FREE country, where nobody will need to cross themselves unwittingly, nor swear hypocritically, in order to feel socially integrated.
UPDATE: Following the example of mrs. Lauci in Italy, eight parents in Greece have sent petitions to the Greek Ombudsman asking for the removal of religious symbols and the abolition of prayer from their children’s school. Also, the Humanist Union of Greece has sent an open letter to the prime minister on the subject of the removal of religious symbols.
Adaptation and Translation: EvanT
In naked darkness we travel,
in naked endless seas.
New untamable lands,
new dreamy travels,
wonders we never dared imagine,
eternal unfulfilled desires wait to be fulfilled.
We inhabit an enormous galaxy consisting of at least 200 billion stars. Nearly since the dawn of time, for 14 billions years, it wanders the endless dark, its sparkling arms rotating around its luminous centre. Like a flying saucer it travels and travels with no destination set and with it so do we. But it’s not a lonely traveler. There are relatives everywhere, close and distant. Other galaxies traveling and trailing their destiny through our known dark sea. And anywhere we turn to look we discover even more of these relatives in this huge galactic family. The total number of galaxies in the cosmos is an unimaginable 100 billion. But our heart is not large enough to bear such wealth… so I return to our familiar territory; our own galaxy and that miniscule corner where our solar system lies. That little corner we can call «home». The corner where the Earth is; the planet that was meant to have such a different fate than all the other planets of the solar system. This would be the planet where the children of the stars would be born, the planet that would become home to the wonder of life.
The epic of life on Earth began 4.5 billion years ago with the formation of our solar system from a nebula. The moment the first living cell appeared on Earth the path was set. In time with small, but steady steps life evolved from simple to even more complex forms, more and more capable of surviving in this inhospitable world. The journey would sometimes end smothered in the adverse conditions and the difficulties of survival, but at times chance would lead it to triumphant victories. Even more important than luck was the mechanism already entrenched in life: Natural Selection. Through this process the descendants were more able to survive than the parents and gradually, through millions of years, we arrived at organisms that appear at first glance perfectly adapted to their environment. One could say that it is remarkable how harmoniously animals coexist with their environment, as if a very capable architect placed everything so it fits just right. In reality this image is just the culmination of a struggle that lasted billions of years, from the first organic compounds to man. We, the beings on this planet had to fight hard from the dawn of our existence in order to manage to adapt and survived. We sculpted our bodies, our senses, our organs and our brains so the wild environment would appear hospitable and familiar. We have every right to be proud of our ancestors and most of all for the gift they imparted us through their wondrous struggle: the right to call Earth «Mother».
All life forms on Earth today are more or less related to each other. There are no lower or imperfect forms of life. Evolution through natural selection has lasted the same amount of time for all beings on the planet. The differences between the species are due to the fact that each adapted to the special circumstances it encountered during this long process. In its attempt to adapt to its environment a species of mammal, a species of ape, was forced to evolve a form of consciousness a bit different from the rest of the mammals. A form of consciousness that many generations later would lead to philosophers, artists and scientists. It is man who, in contrast to other animals, wonders about the «why» and the «how» of this world and tries to understand it. We learned to survive this way. We explored our environment seeking answers to the endless questions our mind gave birth to. We keep doing the same. We have an eternal lust for knowledge, perpetually enamoured with the unknown towards which we travel.
Man and his contemporary animals of this planet are, as a matter of fact, the most complex structures in our known universe, since it took us 14 billions years to reach our present form; the exact age of the Universe. We rest at the top of the evolutionary chain of the world as we know it. It is more than likely that we share this position with other beings, unknown to us, living on other planets somewhere in the Universe. Knowing how rare life is, how difficult it is to arise and evolve and, mainly, how long it’s required for a conscious being like man to evolve, we cannot but be awed by our very existence.
Truly, all these lead to an idea that gives me goosebumps from head to toe. A philosophical paradox or a grand philosophical truth lies before our eyes. The Universe, by means of the Earth, after 14 billion years produced a life form, self-conscious and self-aware. A life form whose main goal throughout history has been to explain the world and conquer knowledge. It sounds odd, but we are the Universe analyzing itself, we are the very stuff of stars that has matured, gained consciousness and wonders why it exists. The scientist exploring the Universe and its properties is in fact trying to understand himself. As the English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley once wrote «I am the eye with which the Universe beholds itself…» And our ancient desire to explain the stars and space seems like sweet nostalgia, as if we want to return to where we came and get to know the primordial womb that gave birth to our existence.
All this knowledge about the structure and the age of the Universe and the appearance and evolution of life on our planet is the achievement of the past 200 years. It is the first time in the history of mankind that we reach such a degree of self-consciouness/knowledge of the cosmos. Philosophies and religions of old pant in order to adapt to the new image of the Universe as it is being unravelled by science and the discoveries of mental giants of our civilization. At this crucial crossroads we can no longer afford to conserve such old ideas that keep our wings folded.
Our life lasts but an infinitesimal moment compared to the age of the Universe. «Life eternal» has been for sure an enticing idea for millennia. But now we’ve matured. We can look truth straight in the eye without feeling paralyzing terror. And if the thought that life comes and goes may seem sad and depressing at times, then we should read the thoughts of the famous biologist Richard Dawkins to fill our hearts with optimism: «We all die and we are the lucky ones. Most people will never die, because they will never be born…» Indeed, DNA research has shown that we comprise a very small percentage of the people that could have been. According to Dawkins the number of all possible DNA combinations is larger than the number of the grains of sand in the Sahara desert. If we take into account all the countless events, all the details, that led to our conception and birth, then our existence truly seems miraculous!
Our presence here is such an unlikely even that we probably don’t have the mental capacity to fully comprehend in all its glory. If one adds to this the complex phenomenon of human consciousness, a product of billion of years of cosmic and terrestrial evolution, we’re not just lucky to exist against all odds, but to be part of a species barely 200,000 years old and endowed with the unique ability to discover the world around it, philosophize about its existence and read these very lines.
With these thoughts in mind I look outside my window at the small, busy streets of the city. Suddenly the people walking the streets of Athens seem completely different. What I took for granted is now remarkable and unique. «Carpe Diem» -seize the day- resounds almost defeaning, louder than ever. How many of the restless passers-by realize that? How many live as if they recognize how really unique is this moment they’ve been granted, their only moment in billions of years of cosmic evolution? Most of us enter a routine and live that way till the day we die. Like the cogs in an automaton we follow the musts of everyday life without ever raising our heads to see the truth, without wondering about the «why» of our existence. And the saddest thing is that we think that our little, insignificant and socially predetermined routine is the most important thing in the world. But if one sees the universe in its totality and, most importantly, when one realizes mankind’s place in it, then everything takes a new shape, novel and optimistic. It is enough to recognize that we’ve been granted this wonderful chance to be part of this cosmic feast, part of this wondrous world which keeps amazing us even more as our understanding of it increases. Every doubt, every postponement seems ridiculously absurd. This moment is truly ours and we should live it to the fullest, we must seize every second of it.
And if our death or the death of a beloved are notions that break our hearts and fill us with terror, let us console ourselves because «what once was cannot cease to have been»*. This is the only truth that will live on throughout the centuries to come: «We were!» Even for an infinitesimal moment in time we became part of the amazing phenomenon of life, in this grandiose fiesta of senses, where the Universe gets to know itself.
I make an attempt to visualize the philosophy of an ideal, wise and peaceful humanity that has survived against all odds and has left behind for good the danger of self-annihilation… When men will offer each other happiness like brothers and live every single moment. Captains of knowledge, with sails spread wide they will sail to conquer new untamable lands and witness wonders we never even dared to dream of. Unfulfillable desires will be sated as the children of the stars will get to know the world that gave birth to them.
The time has come. The Universe is conscious. The greatest journey of introspection begins…
is from the poem «Summers of old» («Παλιά Καλοκαίρια») by Lena Pappa.
This article was written in response to a Church-imposed censorship of a short-film about the history of the Acropolis, made by world-famous Greek director Kostas Gavras, in the summer of 2009, just before the inauguration of the new Acropolis Museum. The uncensored video can be viewed here:
(the censored part starts roughly at 1:35)
The recent censorship incident against Kostas Gavras’ short film, comes to put on the map a series of “unacceptable and sad” conclusions (these are Gavras’ words on the incident) , concerning not only the current state of our culture, but also the tolerance of us and our policies towards the medieval practices of the hypocritical men of the cloth.
The most important issue is the tolerance towards such incidents, displayed by us and, by implication, by our state. It only allows our «rulers» to distance themselves from their responsibilities. Two individuals (Minister of Culture, Mr. K. Samaras (who was recently elected head of the opposition party), and the President of the Acropolis Museum, Mr. Pantermalis) against all reason decided to conceal the truth about the destruction of one of the most important monuments of human civilization. Two people decided to directly censor the work of a world-famous Greek film director. If we don’t consider this course of action to be directly against Greek interests, then the meaning of patriotism eludes us. And yet, this incident took place during a period [in which] the Government struggles to display a patriotic profile. The conclusion is inescapable: either the state is governed by irrationality, or by illiterate, ignorantistic people of the Church. Maybe both!
Another conclusion is that our political status quo is one of absolute depreciation. The one and only political reaction came from Mrs. Damanaki, member of PASOK (Greek Socialist Party). Unfortunately, instead of directly criticizing the Church, she opted for a typical, political criticism of Mr. Samaras. Underestimating yet again the intelligence of the electorate, and considering Mr. Venizelos’ capers (during the Outlook 2003 Exhibition, when as Minister of Culture, removed a painting Christians found offensive) more or less “water under the bridge”, Mrs. Damanaki returned to her “socialist” conscience, after her stiff rhetoric. Meanwhile, the Greek Left are concerned more about their summer vacations, rather than the petty censoring of an unknown director’s film about an unimportant, little monument.
What is obvious but not less important, is the continuous tolerance of the Greek society towards the Church’s rigorous efforts to conceal historical facts and truths. Does the Church react to the teaching of Evolution by Natural Selection in schools? Let not the children know nothing about the most important achievement in Biology. Does the Church react to historical facts? Let’s try to conceal the truths that are , accidentally, connected to the history of the ancient Greek civilization. Scientific achievements, historical facts, truths, are all blatantly pushed under the rag, under the impervious eye of a religion-doped flock.
This flock donates to churches, keeps practicing Christian voodoo, obsolete rituals, idolatrous practices, the adoration of rotten carcasses and all sorts of metaphysical frenzies. The same flock conveniently prefers to remain silent, indifferent to the dark aged clique that goes on controlling and directly effecting the Greek secular state of the 21st century. The voices of reason and democracy emerge only when a booming embarrassment takes place – such as the one mentioned above. Beyond that, the church and the state continue with their harmonious cooperation, prolonging discriminations, censorships and conveniently keeping the society in the a state of illiteracy.
Lies and irrationality are dominant as social characteristics, so nobody cares that an “insulted” Church rants about Mr. Gavras’ “unacceptable” short film, all the while printing comic strips (such as the one following) to “train” the Greek youth about the relationship between Christianity and ancient Greek civilization.
How St. Nicolas destroyed the temple of Artemis in Ephesus,
according to Orthodox legend.
This article was originally published in the lil’ greek dude (ελληνάκι) blog in Greek. It has not been reposted in English, so you can direct your comments at ellinaki’s Greek article.
Columnist: Kostas (Κώστας)
Adaptation and Translation: EvanT
Mars Hill (Άρειος Πάγος), Athens: a copper memorial plaque containing the New Testament passage about the "Unknown God".
"22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, [Ye] men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. 23 or as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you." (Acts 17:22-23) 
This testimony of Paul is quite famous. It has been used time and time again as proof of the presence of the Logos before the birth of Jesus and as proof of a prophetic anticipation of the ancient Greeks for the One and True God; the judeochristian Yahweh. But things aren’t quite as the apologists claim.
And this isn’t an arbitrary conclusion reached by a minority of non-believers, but a position supported by a significant percentage of specialists that have dealt with this subject.
"To the unknown god" or "to the unknown gods"?
Towards the end of Antiquity (1st to 3rd century CE) philosophical theories (especially the stoic ones) and the intense religiosity spawned the belief that no deity should be neglected and remain unworshipped. Even gods whose names or sphere of influence were unknown should not be ignored. These "unknown" gods were included in the extended Pantheon, forming a complete divine circle, often referred to as "all gods". For this reason a worship appelation was created for them and carved on altars during these latter years, apparently used only in the plural . There are numerous examples:
α. Pausanias, Description of Greece, book 1 ("Attica"),1.4 (description of the area of the Phaleron area):
|«[…] ἐνταῦθα καὶ Σκιράδος Ἀθηνᾶς ναός ἐστι καὶ Διὸς ἀπωτέρω, βωμοὶ δὲ θεῶν τε ὀνομαζομένων Ἀγνώστων […]»||"[…] here there is the temple of Athena of Skyros and beyond it that of Zeus and also altars to gods called "the Unknown"[…]"|
b. As above, book 5 ("Helia I"), 14.8 [i] (about the area of Olympia):
|«[…] τὰ δὲ ἐς τὸν μέγαν βωμὸν ὀλίγῳ μέν τι ἡμῖν πρότερόν ἐστιν εἰρημένα, καλεῖται δὲ Ὀλυμπίου Διός: πρὸς αὐτῷ δέ ἐστιν Ἀγνώστων θεῶν βωμὸς […]»||"[…] and about the grand altar I have just talked to you about, it is dedicated to the Olympian Zeus; and close to it there is the altar of the Unknown Gods […]"|
c. In Pergamum in 1909 an offering inscription was discover, restored by archaeologists as follows:
ΘΕΟΙΣ ΑΓ [ΝΩΣΤΟΙΣ] ΚΑΠΙΤ [ΩΝ] ΔΑΔΟΥΧ [ΟΣ]
TO THE UN[KNOWN] GODS, KAPIT[ON] THE TORCH-BEAR[ER]
d. Philostratus, Life of Apollonius, 6,3:
|«[…] σωφρονέστερον γάρ τό περί πάντων θεῶν λέγειν καί ταύτα Ἀθήνησιν, οὐ καί αγνώστων δαιμόνων βωμοί ἵδρυνται […]»||"[…] for according to the Athenians, it is wiser to speak of all gods and there [in Athens] are being built altars to the unknown demons* as well.[…]"|
It is worth mentioning that even St. Jerome (the one that compiled the Vulgata latin translation of the Bible and honoured by the Orthodox Church on June 15th) was of the opinion that Paul in the case of this altar changed the plural to singular (unknown gods to god). And if that isn’t enough, he also eschewed the rest of the phrase, which read: "[…] to the gods of Asia, Europe and Africa, gods and unknown and foreign"!
Jerome’s position was later repeated by Ecumenius, Bishop of Trikke, as well as Erasmus in his "In praise of foolishness":
|«[…] ‘Εάν δέ τις πιστεύῃ κατά τι τόν πεντάγλωσσον εκεῖνον Ιερώνυμον, […] παρά τῷ θείῳ Παύλῳ και οἱ λόγοι τῶν ἱερῶν γραφῶν ἀντιφάσκουσι, καίτοι οὐδαμῶς καθ’ ἑαυτούς ἀντιφάσκοντες, ὅτε ἰδών τυχαίως ἐν Ἀθήναις τήν ἐπί τοῦ ναοῦ ἐπιγραφήν, “ἀγνώστῳ θεῷ”, ἔστρεψεν αὐτήν εἰς ἐπιχείρημα ὑπέρ τῆς χριστιανικῆς πίστεως, παραλείψας τους ἄλλους, δι’ ους περ ἐγράφη ἀπέσπασε δηλ. τοῦτο, Ἀγνώστῳ θεῷ, παραλλάξας καί τοῦτο ὀλίγον. Ἐπειδή τό ὅλον τῆς ἐπιγραφῆς εἶχεν οὕτω “Τοῖς θεοῖς Ἀσίας, Εὐρώπης καί Ἀφρικῆς θεοῖς αγνώστοις καί ξένοις” […]»||"[…] And if someone doesn’t believe that five-tongued Jerome […] or Paul the divine and that the Scriptures contradict themselves, they certainly do not contradict each other, because, when he happened to see in Athens the inscription "unknown god" on the temple, he turned it into an argument in favour of the christian faith, omitting the other [gods] it talked about, i.e. he extracted this, "the unknown god", having changed it a little. Because all of the inscription was like so: "To the gods of Asia, Europe and Africa, gods and unknown and foreign" […]"|
Furthermore, it should not be overlooked that some believe that the passage from the Acts has been tampered with or was a later addition. This position, first supported by Norden, "was accepted some some, (e.g.J. Wellhausen, H. Lietzmann, R. Reitzenstein) while opposed by others (A.v. Harnack, Th. Birt, Ed. Meyer)". Another theory suggests that Paul’s singular number "was due to the text being corrupted or an error of memory", while the magazine "Aexone" («Αἰξωνή»)(1951, σ. 132) suggested the theory that "the inscription was written in the plural, but in capital pre-euclidian letters, […] when the letter sigma (Σ) was still being written with 3 lines and the omicron (O) was also used instead of omega (Ω) and the /u/ diphthong (OY), so the discrepancy could have been due to Paul reading it wrong, because of a change in the letters of the attic alphabet, which had been happening for more than 500 years".
Yes, but what does Lucian have to say?
This question raised by the christian apologists seems at first glance intriguing.
You see, in his work "Patriot" («Φιλόπατρις»), Lucian mentions the following oath:
«Νή τόν άγνωστον ἐν Ἀθήναις»
"in the name of the unknown in Athens"
and also a passage that seems to exonerate Paul:
|«[…] ἡμεῖς δέ τόν ἐν Ἀθήναις Άγνωστον ἐφευρόντες και προσκυνήσαντες χείρας εἰς οὐρανόν ἐκτείναντες τούτω εὐχαριστήσωμεν ὡς καταξιωθέντες τοιούτου κράτους ὑπήκοοι γενέσθαι»||«[…] as for us, we discovered and knelt and worshipped the Unknown in Athens, raising our hands to the sky in order to thank him that we were honoured to become subjects of such a state."|
However, there is an important detail missing here: this work by Lucian is considered to be a PSEUDEPIGRAPH and is believed to have been written in the Middle Ages! Naturally, if this is the case, quoting this passage automatically becomes void of any meaning.
There is however a testimony that doesn’t exclude Paul’s version! It’s impressive that this testimony is used both by Christians and the critics, both interpreting it in an unorthodox manner, since the former corrupt its real meaning and the latter interpret it unilateraly.
It is the testimony of Diogenes Laertius in "The life and opinions of those that prospered in philosophy" A (Epimenides), 110, wherein appears an explanation of the worship of the anonymous gods:
|«Ὅθεν καὶ Ἀθηναίοις τότε λοιμῷ κατεχομένοις ἔχρησεν ἡ Πυθία καθῆραι τὴν πόλιν· οἱ δὲ πέμπουσι ναῦν τε καὶ Νικίαν τὸν Νικηράτου εἰς Κρήτην, καλοῦντες τὸν Ἐπιμενίδην. καὶ ὃς ἐλθὼν Ὀλυμπιάδι τεσσαρακοστῇ ἕκτῃ ἐκάθηρεν αὐτῶν τὴν πόλιν καὶ ἔπαυσε τὸν λοιμὸν τοῦτον τὸν τρόπον. λαβὼν πρόβατα μελανά τε καὶ λευκὰ ἤγαγε πρὸς τὸν Ἄρειον πάγον. κἀκεῖθεν εἴασεν ἰέναι οἷ βούλοιντο, προστάξας τοῖς ἀκολούθοις ἔνθα ἂν κατακλίνοι αὐτῶν ἕκαστον, θύειν τῷ προσήκοντι θεῷ· καὶ οὕτω λῆξαι τὸ κακόν. ὅθεν ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἔστιν εὑρεῖν κατὰ τοὺς δήμους τῶν Ἀθηναίων βωμοὺς ἀνωνύμους, ὑπόμνημα τῆς τότε γενομένης ἐξιλάσεως.»||"When the Athenians were suffering from the plague, Pythia offered a prediction on how to cleanse the city. The Athenians sent a ship along with Nikias, son of Nikiratos, to Crete and summoned Epimenides; who came at the 46th Olympiad and he cleansed the city and stopped the plague in the following manner. Taking sheep, black and white, he took them to the Hill of Mars. There came to be healed whoever wanted and he ordered them to follow the sheep and, wherever they [stopped] and laid down, [at that spot] to offer sacrifice to the appropriate god· and thus ended the evil. From that time one can still find in the boroughs of Athens anonymous altars, in memory of that release [from the plague]."|
Many apologists isolate the phrase "to the appropriate god" and… turn it into an inscription(!) presenting as almost identical in meaning to "to the unknown god" ignoring the fact that the text speaks of many appropriate gods; by definition DIFFERENT! Others reject by default any chance the pauline inscription being real, putting all the weight on the phrase "anonymous altars" and they interpret it unilateraly, without bothering with the fact that (according to the text) wherever the sheep stopped, an altar was erected to the appropriate deity of the area. This description could easily mean that the sheep also stopped at areas whose patron deities were unknown! It’s entirely possible that there WERE altars dedicated to an "unknown god"; not the unknown god the Christians imagine, but the unknown "appropriate" deity of the surrounding area!
Of course this is just one of the alternatives. It is equally possible that they bore no inscription and where (as Laertius says) anomynous! This alternative makes the case that the phrase was never encountered in the singular even stronger and things get even clearer. .
Regardless, one thing is certain. Even if, despite the doubts of the experts, the altar that Paul described existed, under no circumstance was it a prophecy about the One and True God of the Christians. Quite the opposite! And one need only ponder on what difference in symbolism there is between an altar to the Unknown God and a modern monument to the fallen Unknown… Soldier.
|1||King James Version|
|2||Πάπυρος Larousse Britannica, τ. 1, σ. 660, λήμμα: «Άγνωστος θεός»|
|3||«Inscriptio autem arae non ita erat, ut Paulus asseruit “ignoto deo” sed ita: “Diis Asia et Euroae et Africae, diis ignotis et peregrinis”. Verum qia Paulus non pluribus diis indigebat ignotis, sed uno tantum ignoto deo, singylari verro usus est […]»|
|4||http://anemi.lib.uoc.gr/metadata/b/c/f/ ... 000020.tkl (p. 135-136)|
|5||Πάπυρος Larousse Britannica, τ. 1, σ. 660, λήμμα: «Άγνωστος θεός»|
|6||Πάπυρος Λαρούς, 1963, τ. 1, σ. 233, λήμμα: «Αγνώστου θεού βωμός».|
|8||Πάπυρος Larousse Britannica, τ. 33, σ. 629, λήμμα: «Λουκιανός»
On Rome's Palatine Hill a prechristian altar has been found with the following inscription:
SEI DEO SEI DEIVAE SAC [ RUM ]
C. SEXTIUS ET CALVINUS PR [ AETOR ]
DE SENATI SENSENTIA
In various apologetic websites this inscription is quoted as saying "To the Unknown God! In reality the text reads: "To either god or goddess". The rest mentions that the altar was restored by order of the Senate by Sextius. It is believed that either the altar had the inscription before it was restored or the deity to which it was dedicated had been forgotten by neglect.
This article was originally published in the What is truth? (Τι εστίν αλήθεια;) blog in Greek. The article has also been posted in English on the «On the Way to Ithaca» blog and you can direct your comments there.